WILLAPA BAY — Searchers said late Tuesday they are hopeful they have found the Kelli J, a sunken crab boat submerged in Willapa Bay.

Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson said Tuesday afternoon that the missing vessel belonging to Kevin Soule of Long Beach has been identified near Marker 7 in the bay. Marker 7 is immediately west of Rhodesia Beach near Bay Center.

The Kelli J is believed to have gone down Saturday morning while Soule was engaged in pulling crab pots.

The sheriff said that on Wednesday a salvage crew will send divers down and if they find the Soule’s remains, sheriff’s divers will bring him up.

The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that around midday Tuesday, using side-scan radar, a boat crew contracted by Soule’s insurance company located a large unknown object resting below 40 feet of water and on the bottom in the same general area off Bay Center that the sheriff’s office first identified Sunday. This is where a diesel sheen, life ring and crab pots were found during the initial search Saturday afternoon and Sunday. However, no sheen has been reported at the new location.

Global Diving and Salvage personnel have been contracted by the insurance company to dive on and identify the object Wednesday, and assess what actions can be taken for potential salvage.

The Coast Guard said further actions depend on results from the planned dive on Wednesday.

The following is from a Tuesday afternoon press release from the Coast Guard:

Around 3:35 p.m. on Saturday, watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Columbia River received a report that the operator of the Kelli J was overdue from a fishing trip. The report came from the vessel operator’s wife, who stated he was due to return at 12:30 p.m. that day and confirmed his vehicle was still at a Nahcotta marina with no vessel in sight.

Sector personnel made callouts over marine VHF channel 16 to contact the vessel operator but received no response. They then issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast and diverted a sector MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from training to conduct an initial search, which also yielded no results.

The aircrew returned to sector to refuel before relaunching to conduct a two-hour search covering Willapa Bay and the area offshore of the bay entrance, while a 29-foot Response Boat-Small crew from Coast Guard Station Grays Harbor retraced the vessel track of the Kelli J, a shore party from Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment met with the family at the marina and Pacific County Sheriff’s personnel checked other marinas around Willapa Bay.

At 10:40 p.m. a good Samaritan notified sector personnel that they located a sheen and what appeared to be a life ring attached to something submerged in Willapa Bay approximately three miles northwest of Oysterville. Crab pots potentially from the vessel were also located nearby. Another Jayhawk aircrew arrived on the reported location and lowered a rescue swimmer who recovered the life ring but saw no other sign of the vessel.

Helicopter crews continued to search until 1 a.m. on Sunday, and at 8 a.m. the search by air resumed.

A Clark County dive team arrived to Station Cape Disappointment around midnight and rested until morning, but due to strong currents they were unable to safely conduct dive operations on Sunday. A Pacific County Sheriff’s boat crew located a large unknown object using a side-scan radar about 500 yards east of where the sheen and life ring were found, but was unable to relocate the object after returning the Clark County divers to shore.

The search for the missing vessel operator was suspended 12:12 p.m. on Sunday after the morning searches concluded with negative results. The Kelli J reportedly could carry up to 500 gallons of fuel aboard. The sheriff’s office personnel worked with the operator’s insurance company to locate and potentially salvage the vessel.

Monday concluded with the sheriff’s office personnel unsuccessful in locating the vessel and sector personnel issues a Safety Marine Information Broadcast to warn mariners transiting the area of the unlocated fishing vessel.

On Tuesday, radar found the object described at the top of this story.

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